Algeria and Tunisia have played 45 matches, with the very first dating back to 1958, before Algeria had even gained independence.
Thursday’s fixture in Group B, however, was only the second time these side played one another in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Bitter memories of that last match in 2013 linger in Algeria’s collective consciousness, as a tight match was determined by Youssef Msakni in stoppage time as he hit a wonder goal to eliminate Les Fennecs.
Both sides were off to a horrendous start in this edition of the Cup of Nations. Algeria drew with group minnows Zimbabwe, in the first matchday, before Tunisia fell to Senegal 2-0.
The Algerians dominated early on against Tunisia, creating scoring chances as early as the fifth minute. Yacine Brahimi came close with a free-kick that Aymen Balbouli tipped over in the Tunisian goal. The ensuing corner kick saw Ramy Bensebaini flick on Mahrez’s cross and Islam Slimani had a header saved by Aymen Mathlouthi on the line.
Malek Asselah replaced the injured Rais M’Bolhi in goal for Les Fennecs and the Carthage Eagles were keen to test him in the 10th minute as Wahbi Khazri hit a dipping free-kick from 20 yards out that Malek Asselah dove to his right to parry.
Adlene Guedioura got in on the action in the 11th minute as he was left with a bubble of space. The Watford midfielder put his foot through the ball forcing a good save out of Balbouli.
Tunisia came up with the best chance of the first half in the 21st minute as a Wahbi Khazri corner-kick found its way to Ahmed Akaichi, who clanged the low cross off the post.
Chances continued to fall to both sides but they entered their dressing rooms at halftime locked in a goalless stalemate.
Tunisia opened the scoring early in the second half as Msakni, Algeria’s kypronite, ran at Aissa Mandi and whipped in a low cross. The Real Betis defender deflected the cross into his own net.
Les Fennecs regrouped quickly as vice-captain Yacine Brahimi called a tight huddle during an injury break, riling up his teammates and punching his palm with his fist.
Just as Leekens’ men were knocking on the door, however, Faouzi Ghoulam whiffed a header back to his goalkeeper that Khazri latched on to. The Napoli fullback then pulled down the Tunisian in the box, conceding a penalty. Naim Sliti converted the penalty, wrong-footing Asselah and placing the final nail in the coffin.
Tunisia’s coach, Henryk Kasperczak, reverted to a defence of five with 15 minutes remaining, introducing Mohamed Ali Yaacoubi for Khazri.
Algeria pulled back a consolation goal at the death as Sofiane Hanni swept a low cross past Rami Jeridi.
It would be too little too late for Mahrez and co as they are now on the brink of elimination.
The Carthage Eagles, on the other hand, have virtually assured qualification. A draw would suffice in their final match against Zimbabwe to move on to the quarter-finals.
Algeria will need to win against Senegal, but even then, their fate won’t be in their hands.
By Maher Mezahi
@MezahiMaher on Twitter